Written by Derek Koel
To anyone who’s been paying attention, it’s clear Port McNeill’s mayor and council spend a lot of time meeting in-camera.
Land, legal, or labour are the topics discussed in these private meetings, which now seem to be held after almost all the regular meetings. Every now and then, the fruits of their labour come to fruition and are made public.
The revealing of the Sept. 11 council meeting agenda was such an occasion. Tucked away in the agenda, under the “items from in-camera to be made public” was a report “to notify members of the public regarding a substantial land donation provided by Western Forest Products Inc. for public usage opportunities as directed by the Town of Port McNeill.”
The donation is for three parcels of forested land, specifically 347, 363, and 389 Cedar Street. The area is part of the popular trail known locally as the “Nature Trail.” This route is used by students and the public alike, taking one from the Regional District of Mount Waddington office to Cedar Street, en route to downtown. In addition to being an “active transportation” route, the trail is also unfortunately known for underage smoking, litter, and graffiti.
The staff report notes “the purpose and intent of the land is for public use and parks which will support outdoor recreation and community gathering. This donation is the result of the long standing, collaborative working relationship between the town and Western. Signage acknowledging the donation, along with a public event celebrating this donation, will be scheduled in the near future.”
The brief announcement didn’t offer much context or detail, but here is some more information on what is publicly know about the land and donation deal.
Prior to 2021, the Cedar Street properties were zoned as A-2 Small Holding, the document of the day states, “land designated A-2 will, in the ordinary course of events, be the residential expansion areas of the community.”
The zoning and land use designation was changed as a result of the 2021 Official Community Plan and Zoning bylaw rewrite. The area is now considered “Downtown” by the OCP and the new zoning bylaw. The current C-2 zoning allows for most of the typical commercial and multi residential housing uses you see in a downtown.
It seems the process of the land donation started during the last mayor and council’s reign when, all of the sudden, it was noticed that all three of the Cedar Street properties were publicly put up for sale by WFP. At the time, the properties were still zoned A-2, allowing for one just one house on each lot.
The sale of these lots to a third party would have effectively land locked the town’s forested portion of the large Cenotaph land parcel. Also, there would be no guarantee that any new owners would continue to allow for public access through the Nature Trail to Cedar Street, like WFP had been doing for decades.
The Gazette contacted former Port McNeill councillor Ryan Mitchell, and he confirmed that while he was on council, he actually spearheaded the land donation idea with WFP “before it went in camera.”
When asked about the Cedar Street land donation announcement, Mitchell said, “I’m not happy that the original intent, to include low cost housing, is not there.”
All told, the three properties are valued at $328,000 according to BC Assessment.
No word as of press time if any restrictive covenants were put on the land as a result of the donation by WFP.